Denmark’s prime minister faces inquiry over decision to cull minks

A demonstrator holds a sign reading
A demonstrator holds a sign reading "why is Mette lying" as the Danish PM arrives for questioning over her government's decision to cull mink in 2020. Photo: Mads Claus Rasmussen/Ritzau Scanpix
A parliamentary commission is to grill Denmark's prime minister Mette Frederiksen on Thursday over her government's illegal decision last year to cull all farmed minks nationwide over fears of a new coronavirus strain.

Formerly the world’s leading exporter of mink fur, the Scandinavian country in November last year controversially decided to kill all of its 15-17 million minks after studies suggested the variant found in some of the animals could jeopardise the effectiveness of future vaccines.

The commission will be seeking to determine whether Frederiksen was aware that the order had no legal basis — a fact that emerged soon after the cull was underway and led the country’s agriculture minister to resign.

At the time, the government only had the authority to ask mink farmers in the seven municipalities affected by the mutation to cull their minks.

But an agreement was reached retroactively, rendering the government’s decision legal, and the nationwide cull went ahead as planned.

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Prior to the cull, Denmark was also the world’s second largest producer of mink fur after China.

A specially appointed parliamentary commission has since April been scrutinising the government’s decision and all documents related to it, as well as questioning witnesses to dissect the decision-making process.

Ultimately, the commission will decide whether or not to recommend that the matter be brought before a special court that judges the actions of cabinet members while in office.

Frederiksen has maintained that she did not know her decision was unlawful, and insisted that it was “based on a very serious risk assessment”.

“So far, during the hearings, we have not seen any evidence that the prime minister was aware of the illegality,” Frederik Waage, a law professor at the University of Southern Denmark, told AFP.

“As someone who was personally very involved in the handling of the case… it is obviously important to hear her own version of events,” Waage stressed.

In October, controversy around the decision was reignited when it was revealed that Frederiksen’s text messages from the time had disappeared.

Her office said they had been automatically deleted after 30 days for security reasons.

But many politicians greeted the claim with scepticism. Only two of the 51 ministers and ex-ministers interviewed by public broadcaster DR said they had the same setting installed on their phones while in office.

The commission called on police and intelligence services to help, but they were unable to recover the text messages.

Media and lawmakers have repeatedly questioned Frederiksen on the issue.

According to political commentator Hans Engell, her at times annoyed responses have become a problem of their own, as the opposition has managed to capitalise on the subject and keep it in the headlines.

“It is clear that the government and Mette Frederiksen are very irritated,” he wrote in the daily Berlingske.

Unlike the Delta or Omicron variants, the mink mutation has disappeared.

A few weeks after the cull in the North Jutland region in northwestern Denmark, where many mink farms were concentrated, the mutation was declared extinct.

The Danish parliament later passed an emergency law which banned the breeding of the mammals in 2021, which was then extended to 2022, devastating the industry.

Mink is the only animal so far confirmed to be capable of both contracting Covid-19 and recontaminating humans, which is why it has been under special surveillance during the pandemic.

The commission is due to report its findings in April 2022.


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